Friday, November 03, 2006

What's that mean?


I've just spent half a day browsing photo blogs.

One problem I have with many photo blogs is that they're a stream of images, but there seems to be little connection from one image to the next. One day, it's a flower. The next day, it's a gritty image of an urban hotel doorway. After that, it's an image of someone walking a dog. (No, that's not a real photo blog, that's an example). The photo blog isn't a connected body of work, it's just a random stream of images that happen to have been made in chronological sequence by a single photographer.

In contrast, there are some photo blogs that seem more cohesive. I'm not sure I can articulate the difference between random images and a theme like "Here's what I noticed today", but it's definitely true that some photo blogs seem to be a unified body of work much more than others.

Part of it, I suspect, is that in some cases, the photoblog is a very public way of 'playing scales' - that is, the photos made for the blog are the photographic equivalent of keyboard practice for a pianist - practice you do daily to keep your skills up and your vision sharpened up.

The problem I have with those photos is that they seem to be just that - practice, with no real investment by the photographer in meaning deeper than "Let's work on my lighting skills (or use of shallow depth of field, or long exposures, etc.) today." This lack of investment seems to come through the photo in a way I find really hard to articulate. But my inability to articulate it doesn't mean that it's not happening.

It's not so much that I insist that you should be able to look at a photo and answer the question "What's that mean?" I happen to think that art is one of the ways we (as humans) deal with ambiguity, deal with things that aren't easily articulated, with things that seem to bubble just beneath the surface. It's really more a matter of I like to be able to look at a photo (or more importantly, a collection of photos) and feel that asking "What's that mean?" is not a pointless exercise.

2 Comments:

Blogger matt~ said...

This line of thought runs mostly parallel to a discussion auspicousdragon and I carried out on our respective blogs a couple of months back on what the heck zeiss means by "photo poets." Not sure that we reached any definite conclusions, except that we both had too much time on our hands if were discussing Zeiss' marketing stratagey and how it relates to the merits of particular photgraphic demographics. Google photo poets and you will get to it.

Regarding photoblogging as playing scales, it's not necessarily an unfair criticism, but I think it overlooks how repetitive some of the more focussed blogs can become; a picture a day of a flower isn't necessarily any more likely to be more satisfying because of its thematic unity.

On a more abstract level, lack of thematic unity doesn't always have to just feel like practice. A photographer that's working through a singular vision can show you "what I saw today" in way that doesn't come up short when we ask "what does it mean?"

Don't ask me to back that up with examples btw ;-)

3:08 PM  
Blogger Dan Mitchell said...

"Part of it, I suspect, is that in some cases, the photoblog is a very public way of 'playing scales' - that is, the photos made for the blog are the photographic equivalent of keyboard practice for a pianist - practice you do daily to keep your skills up and your vision sharpened up."

As someone with a music background who now also does photography, this comment resonates. Practice noticing, considering, capturing, and working with photographic images makes one a more intuitive and aware photographer.

"The problem I have with those photos is that they seem to be just that - practice, with no real investment by the photographer in meaning deeper than..."

Well, maybe. Perhaps you are expecting too much of this thing called a blog. No one can post a great example of anything every day - certainly not a new "great" photograph. But that isn't necessarily the point of a blog. In fact, it is about producing a flow of "content" (photos or whatever) out of which the occasional exceptional piece may emerge. If anything, in makes public a part of the artistic process that was far less visible in the past, but which was there nonetheless.

8:27 PM  

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